Monday night, Adam Goldstein from Student Press Law Center skyped with students at the bi-weekly meeting of the Society of Professional Journalists about the rights students have at colleges like Ithaca. In the hour-long session Goldstein relayed the history of the most common laws that effect students, especially student journalists, and what those laws entail.
To begin, Goldstein brought up the First Amendment, which contains our freedom of speech and of the press and the Fourteenth Amendment, which stops the states from infringing on the rights granted to us by the federal government. In essence, the states can’t do anything the federal government can’t do. In regards to private schools and the rights of the students, it varies by the school’s handbook.
The Ithaca College Handbook can be found online and states in section 184.108.40.206.3 that “Students and student organizations are free, publicly and privately, to hold discussions, pass resolutions, distribute leaflets, circulate petitions, and take other orderly action that does not disrupt the essential operation of the institution. Communications media are free of censorship and advance approval of copy, and the editors and managers are free to develop editorial policies and news coverage with the understanding that students and student organizations speak only for themselves.” These rules are pretty close to those given in public school aside from not being able to perform any action that disrupts the running of the school. This means no sit-ins, or walkouts or anything else of the ilk. The students of Ithaca College are bound to this once they pay their tuition. This handbook is the contract between IC and us. Unless amended, both the students and the college have to abide by what it says.
As student journalists, we also have the right to keep our sources confidential. The law in NY is that journalists can only have this privilege if a substantial amount of their income comes from journalism. However, thanks to a case back in 2002 against Yeshiva University, the courts found the First Amendment rights protect all journalists in New York from being forced to reveal sources.
As students in general, there are laws that we should aware of, such as the Freedom of Information Act and the Clery Act. “[The] biggest misunderstanding of getting information is that you have to do it in a particular way or form,” said Goldstein. As long as you produce a written request for documents, the officers or establishment has to serve you if the documents are allowed to be viewed. If you just go in and ask for the information without anything in writing, the officer could lie straight to your face and say there are none and he would not be breaking any law.
The Clery Act was created in 1990 to make more information about criminal activity on college campuses available. It affects all types of colleges and requires that colleges produce an annual statistical incidence report and daily crime log. The Act also requires all federally funded colleges and universities to notify all students, faculty and staff in a timely manner when certain crimes, either committed on campus or close-by, are brought to their attention and the perpetrator has not yet been caught.
After the shooting at Virginia Tech University, the Act was expanded upon to include protections for whistleblowers and victims, a campus emergency response plan, and strengthened the reporting requirements for hate crimes. In private school such as Ithaca however, most of the Clery Act may provide only the information they are legally entitled.
We signed into this when we first paid our tuition. We signed the contract. We must obey the rules.
Adam Goldstein graduated Fordham College back in 2002 with a degree in Internet Journalism. While working for SPLC, Adam was also a freelance producer and editor for three years at FoxNews.com. He has been working for SPLC since 2003 and is now assistant teaching an online course at Michigan State University.